No More Christmas

“Hear the word which the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: ‘Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the people are false. A tree from the forest is cut down, and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. Men deck it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Be not afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.’” (Jer. 10:1-5)

(All Bible quotations are from the RSV, 1952)

Sometime in late November, every year, the issue of Christmas rears its head at my house. My wife (a devout Catholic) is an adamant supporter of Christmas, while I, a Church of God adherent, am not. We don’t foolishly quarrel over Christmas, but we do seem to go over the same ground year after year without much resolution. Both of us are extremely firm in our opinions and unyielding on this issue. We respect each other and our mutual right to a fair expression of opinions, but why can’t she see my point of view? Why can’t she see that Jeremiah 10:1-5 is a direct rebuke of the Christmas tree?

“Why make such a big deal about this?” she might ask.

Good King Wenceslas

Surprisingly, understanding the clarity of this argument had not been possible for me in my youth. As a child, I grew up in a secular house where there were very few religious ceremonies or icons. December was Santa time—period. My theme song for those days was the Christmas Carol “Good King Wenceslas,” which I sang over and over. As Christmas drew closer, the festive trappings of the season would begin appearing one by one. The tree was put up and decorated. The decorative lights were strung round the outside of the house. The Santa poster was nailed to the front door. Decorative “snow in a can” was sprayed discreetly everywhere and eventually was complemented by real snow falling outside.

When the night before Christmas arrived, my brother, sister, and I were excited. We had steadily watched the mountain of presents grow, and we knew that by the next day, it would be even larger. On that night, each of us was usually allowed to open one of the presents under the tree. We had in actual fact spent many days shaking and examining each of the presents after having chosen them carefully and strategically.

The last ritual for the whole event was Santa’s reward—carrots for Rudolph with cookies and milk for Santa were laid out on the kitchen table. Finally, with everything completed, we went to bed hoping for the best from our wish list.

My parents’ part in all of this was a little different. Both my mother and father come from a largely secular background. For them, Christmas was the big day to show their love for their children, a love that was best expressed by giving generously. They also saw it as their duty to provide each of their three children with the best that money could buy. When all of my aunts and uncles added their annual “Christmas tithe,” it became a treasure of immense proportions, especially if you’re only eight years old and about three feet high. The funny thing though, was the thrill only lasted until about lunch or dinner and then it was gone. As the years went by, the excitement surrounding the season seemed to fade. I noticed that my parents’ enthusiasm for the Christmas season and celebration diminished over time. Eventually, it became obvious that like Alice in Wonderland, Christmas was a fantasy that had become meaningless with little or no staying power.

My wife’s memory of Christmas and her understanding of her own parents’ motivations for gift giving are similar to mine. Additionally, Christmas was a time of visiting among the many members of her extended family. However, for her family unlike mine, Christmas was also a religious event. To this very day, she continues to see Christmas as a significant religious event to be celebrated with friends and family.

The religious aspect of Christmas is one of our points of disagreement. My family and I never embraced this aspect of Christmas. If one does not believe that Christmas is God ordained, it is much easier to abandon the entire season with very little guilt. For my wife and others, however; there is a strong belief that this day is God centered and that to not honour and observe it is wrong. Accordingly, by the middle of every December, the Christmas season (tree, wreath, decorations, Christmas lights etc.) makes its appearance at my house.

One of the few things that my wife and I seem to agree on is that today, a spirit of commercialism has largely invaded Christmas and distorted its intent. In particular, I now mostly see Christmas as a time of cynicism and emptiness. For many people, Christmas has become a time of financial profit at the expense of others goodwill and gullibility, while for others it is merely a day, or season of feasting and drinking. The shallowness of happiness today and depression tomorrow when hopes are unfilled and bills come due, troubles me. I should not be surprised though, since the Bible warns that people generally prefer deception to truth (Isa. 30:9-11) and that Satan himself is the author of much of this deception (Rev. 12:9). Additionally, since people everywhere are also lovers of pleasure and money, but not God (2 Tim. 3:1-5), they also do as they please ignoring all admonishments to the contrary.

How did society get to this point?

Herbert Reboot

The original founders of the Church of God movement had definite ideas about the pagan origins of Christmas. The writings of Herbert W. Armstrong and his associates spawned many articles on the subject. Today, the Church of God International has one such article which is readily available to everyone. It is entitled, Facts You Should Know About Christmas. This article discusses the history of Christmas and the origins of many things normally associated with it. The booklet is a quick read and worth the effort. It is not my intention to review it here but very briefly, the article proposes that most of what we consider to form part of our Christian Christmas is actually pagan in origin and unworthy of a Christian label. The booklet also suggests that Jesus was not born on December 25 and so, there was never any Christ in Christmas.

How did this come to be? The early church, under pressure from the Roman Empire, chose to evangelize everyone at the lowest common denominator. The pagans of that time were brought into the church with their customs assigning a Christian label to everything. Perhaps, this is why so many people today sense a spiritual emptiness in Christmas. For these people, the holiday contains almost no measure of God’s Spirit. The true manifestation of God’s Spirit is in the Fruits of the Spirit not the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-24). Please read this passage of scripture and see for yourself how the ‘spirit” of Christmas measures up.

The counter perspective of many mainstream Christians is that while Christmas may have pagan origins, the present day celebration is a perfectly acceptable means of honouring the birth of Jesus in a way which is harmlessly festive. The booklet has a fascinating response to this perspective. Why not read it for yourself and see what the booklet actually says about this attitude? I won’t spoil the surprise for you.

Soft Words Turn Away Wrath

Regardless of your point of view, there is I believe, an equally important consideration; this is actually the main point of my message to you. When you meet someone who disagrees with you about the observation of Christmas, how do you proceed? Should you argue and fight, standing your ground against all opposition? Or is there another approach?

The book of Proverbs suggests the following:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).

“The wise of heart is called a man of discernment, and pleasant speech increases persuasiveness” (Prov. 16:21).

I suppose that some of you who are Church of God (COG) members or alternatively Christmas supporters will say that we are entitled to our opinions. Unquestionably, this is true and we can be very thankful for that today. However, many COG members will rightly remind me that we are not to accommodate the world since friendship with the world is enmity with God (Jam 4:4). Furthermore, no one can serve two masters (Matt 6:24) you might add. However, Jesus also said “Judge not…” (Matt 7:1). On this point, consider Jesus’ response to the woman caught in the sinful act of adultery. Due to her behaviour and under God’s laws she was worthy of punishment (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Jesus said:

Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her…Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” (John 8:7-11)

In this story, Jesus shows mercy to the sinner but is unwavering in his definition of righteousness and right behaviour. We should follow His example when the issue of Christmas returns each year. In the quiet strength of soft words and friendly speech, the knowledge of righteousness and disapproval of non-biblically based behaviours (sin) can be strongly shown without all the animosity that fighting produces. If you are a Christian supporter of Christmas, the same should be true for you. God is after all, allowing us freedom of choice in this life with all that it implies. Choose you now (Josh 24:15; Deut. 28; Deut. 30:15-20).

So what do you say when Christmas comes to town? God bless you as you follow the example of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

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